• Philornis downsi ;
  • introduced species;
  • parental care;
  • bird;
  • tasty chick hypothesis;
  • signal of need


Parental care should be selected to respond to honest cues that increase offspring survival. When offspring are parasitised, the parental food compensation hypothesis predicts that parents can provision extra food to compensate for energy loss due to parasitism. Chick begging behaviour is a possible mechanism to solicit increased feeding from attending parents. We experimentally manipulated parasite intensity from Philornis downsi in nests of Darwin's small ground finch (Geospiza fuliginosa) to test its effects on chick begging intensity and parental food provisioning. We used in-nest video recordings of individually marked chicks to quantify nocturnal parasite feeding on chicks, subsequent diurnal chick begging intensity and parental feeding care. Our video analysis showed that one chick per brood had the highest parasite intensity during the night (supporting the tasty chick hypothesis) and weakest begging intensity during the day, which correlated with low parental care and rapid death. We observed sequential chick death on different days rather than total brood loss on a given day. Our within-nest video images showed that (1) high nocturnal larval feeding correlated with low diurnal begging intensity and (2) parent birds ignored weakly begging chicks and provisioned strongly begging chicks. Excluding predation, all parasite-free chicks survived (100% survival) and all parasitised chicks died in the nest (100% mortality). Weak begging intensity in parasitised chicks, which honestly signalled recent parasite attack, was not used as a cue for parental provisioning. Parents consistently responded to the strongest chick in both parasitised and parasite-free nests.